Friday, June 15, 2012

Blowing Me Away

Some things are so mind blowingly awesome that they do not need any sort of fanciful or mythical explanation to make them so amazingly wonderful to comprehend.  This week, two things have reached that level for me.

1.  The Human Microbiome Project has just finished the first-ever survey of the microbes that live on and in us.  In case you haven't heard, we are not all human.  In fact, were not even mostly human, from a genetic material standpoint. I know, it's a bit of a stretch because we are talking about a rather thinly defined 'biomass', essentially.  From what we know about this stuff it might as well come from another galaxy.  Actually, it might, but that's another speculation for another essay.  

From what the researchers can tell from the preliminary data--that is, the weight and mass and, to some extent, the make-up--about the creatures that live with us, they comprise somewhere between 2 and six pounds of our body weight.  

That either sounds gross or it sounds great.  I think it sounds great.  Finally, this is proof that we are actually the Royal We, with far more than a mouse in our collective pockets.  

Seriously, it shows how simultaneously diverse and dependent we humans are as creatures:  we are not only what we eat, but we are what's eating us.  

This blows my mind because shows how dependent we are on creatures so much smaller than us we'd never even know they were there.  Until, that is, something goes wrong, and some of those creatures die off or multiply so rapidly that they overwhelm other sets of creatures living alongside them and not coincidentally making our lives possible.  Then we get sick.  

It seems that the truth about sickness is this:  when We are ill, that means that whole host of creatures is undergoing serious change.  Huge numbers of microbes are either dying off or multiplying rapidly, causing mayhem in the Body that depends on their mutual understanding.  

In my mind's eye, when these creatures have a war, I imagine the great armies of the Bahagavad Gita, arrayed on the field of battle.  I sympathize with Krishna, who counsels Arjuna and looks on the scene, powerless to help or hinder, but desperately interested in the outcome of the battle, for it is actually his existence that is on the line.

There are many other implications of the human microbiome that require some thought and commentary, but this is just my first pass at it.

2.  Voyager 1 is about to enter interstellar space.  In case you've forgotten about it, Voyager 1 was launched in September 1977.  It is still out there, sailing on in deep space, and sending back information via radio signals.  It is the most distant man-made object from Earth, currently in the heliopause but about to leave even that most distant reach of old Sol.  

In 1990 it sent back an image (known as the 'Blue Dot') from outside the solar system, in which the Earth was reduced to a single pixel.  Mind-blowing as this may seem, it's not what is taking the top of my head off today.

For truly a mind blowing moment, think about this information, taken from a recent NASA press release:

"Data from Voyager 1 is currently taking 16-hours and 38 minutes to travel from the spacecraft's antennae, through 11.1 billion miles (17.8 billion kilometers) of space and to NASA's Deep Space Network on Earth."

Dear Reader, did you really stop and think about that?  I think perhaps not, because otherwise your mind would be blown, clean away.  Protest not.  Think about it some more.

Seriously, this blows my mind because it's not just a big number, or a long distance.  It's the symbolism that cannot be overstated.  Even though we will eventually lose touch with this thing altogether and most humans will not even know of its existence, that tiny little metal and glass object, made by the human hand and flung out into space for no other reason than doing so has an amazingly important meaning for us humans.

After all, it hasn't been that long ago that we wandered out and up from Africa, sleeping, trading and eventually replacing the Neanderthals that had held the territory for eons.  And just like that, in the twinkling of a star, Voyager will loose the bounds of the sun and drift free, waiting to be captured by the invisible tendrils of another star.  

Who knows on which distant beach it will arrive on?  I will be there with it.

No comments: